UP IHR Director Participates in ILO Workshop

UP IHR Director Participates in ILO Workshop on Extrajudicial Killings of Labor Leaders

On March 23, 2021, the International Labour Organization (ILO) hosted a virtual workshop on the extrajudicial killings of labor rights advocates in the Philippines. Participants from the government, trade unions, and the academe assessed the existing efforts to promote and protect workers’ rights, as well as proposed mechanisms to strengthen these efforts. In particular, the workshop focused on Administrative Order No. 15, which created an Inter-Agency Committee (IAC) to investigate extra-legal killings and other civil rights violations committed by State and non-State actors.

Among those who spoke was UP Institute of Human Rights (UP IHR) Director Prof. Elizabeth Aguiling-Pangalangan, who discussed the current challenges to trade union rights in relation to A.O. 15. She underscored that no less than the 1987 Constitution affords full protection to labor, recognizing their rights to self-organization, collective bargaining, and peaceful concerted activities. These rights are likewise found in international instruments, such as the UN Declaration of Human Rights, as well as the fundamental obligations of all ILO members.

Despite this, Prof. Aguiling-Pangalangan explained that there remain significant challenges to the exercise of workers’ rights in the Philippines. First, trade union leaders and members have been frequent targets of extrajudicial killings and violence. In fact, at least 43 trade unionists have been killed in the past five years1 and, in light of recent cases, this number is on the rise. Second, these acts of violence are usually accompanied by a series of death threats, harassment, and red-tagging. For instance, labor leaders have appeared in posters and flyers entitled “Wanted Terrorist Recruiters.”2 In fear of being red-tagged, workers may withdraw from participating in mass actions or from joining unions altogether. Third, recent cases show that police officers have participated in the violent dispersal of peaceful assemblies. In the 2019 strike of NutriAsia workers, violence ensued when police officers, “thugs,” and company-sanctioned security guards attacked the workers on strike.3

In response to these challenges, Prof. Aguiling-Pangalangan offered recommendations to strengthen the mechanisms under A.O. 35. First, expand the scope of A.O. 35, such that it expressly includes labor-related cases within its coverage. Second, include the Department of Labor and Employment and labor organizations in the IAC. At present, DOLE is only a member of the National Monitoring Mechanism (NMM). Third, the IAC and the NMM should hold more frequent meetings in light of recurrent cases of labor-related violence. For the same reason, they should be required to report more often to the President. Last, repeal Section 2(b) of A.O. 35, which gives “[g]reater priority […] to high profile cases perpetrated during the past administration.” Instead, replace it with a non-political distinction, such as time (e.g. “cases in the past five years”).

Other presenters in the panel were Atty. Arpee Santiago, Director of the Ateneo Human Rights Center and Ms. Signe Poulsen of the UN Resident Coordinator Office. A dialogue between labor leaders and the AO45 Secretariat and Technical Working Group, headed by Prosecutor Gino Paulo Santiago, brought to fore grave concerns on the current labor rights situation in the Philippines and provided the impetus for persistent efforts to further protect the rights of workers.

1 International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), Philippines (In Practice): Union Organiser Murdered, SURVEY OF VIOLATIONS OF TRADE UNION RIGHTS, June 2, 2019, at https://survey.ituc-csi.org/Philippines.html?lang=en#tabs-3. See International Labor Organization Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations (CEACR), Observation (CEACR): Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention, 1948 (No. 89) – Philippines (Ratification: 1953), (2019, adopted; 2021, published).
2 International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), Philippines (In Practice): ACT Leaders Harassed by Military, SURVEY OF VIOLATIONS OF TRADE UNION RIGHTS, July 1, 2020, at https://survey.ituc-csi.org/Philippines.html?lang=en#tabs-3
3 International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), Philippines (In Practice): Injuries and Arrests as Police Disperses Strikes, SURVEY OF VIOLATIONS OF TRADE UNION RIGHTS, July 6, 2019, at https://survey.ituc-csi.org/Philippines.html?lang=en#tabs-3